One hour each way in rickety old motorcoach that leaks in the rain.
Roughly an hour to be lead around ruins site by your guide – steep, moss covered rocky steps to climb if you want. Steps are as slick as ice when they are wet.
Ya still with me?
Good. If you can push past the description above, and you have an interest in visiting a Mayan ruins site in 4 hours or less (round trip) during your cruise to Costa Maya, Mexico, I highly recommend the Chacchoben Ruins tour.
When Carnival Glory canceled its stop to Belize, we were really ticked. Seeing Belize was one of the main reasons we chose that cruise and we had booked the Altun Ha ruins tour. Our ship docked in Costa Maya instead and we had two or three different ruins excursions to choose from. We picked the Chacchoben Ruins tour because it was just half a day long (4 hours) and only an hour drive each way, as opposed to the 2-3 hours each way that some other tours.
The Chacchoben Ruins tour by Carnival is $79.99 (price valid as of 1/2013) for both adults and kids. There is no minimum age for this shore excursion. We took our 4 year old daughter and she was the youngest person on our tour by at least 5 years. Lily is freakishly well-behaved during long bus rides and tours, so you will have to decide if this tour is a good match for your kids. There was one family on our tour who looked the other way while their son (preteen-ish in age) climbed and walked along an ancient stone wall, actually knocking a stone from the ruins out of place and to the ground as he jumped down. They walked away laughing that he had “ruined the ruins” and the rest of us resisted the urge to throttle them all. Show some respect, or don’t go.
Our day in Costa Maya began as overcast with drizzle and more rain forecast throughout the day. Even as we disembarked the ship at 8:30 am the air was warm and humid (this was in late January).
We met our tour guide (Manuel) at the end of the pier and he led us to our bus. We boarded an older tour bus that looked a lot nicer from the outside. Inside, the bus is extremely worn and a bit dingy. There is no bathroom on board and you don’t stop until you get to the ruins, so make sure you go beforehand. The rain got heavier as we drove and our bus leaked on passengers sitting on the right side next to the aisle. Some people got a decent soaking, others just a couple drops.
As you board your bus, you’re given a brown bagged snack. Our bags each contained a banana, cookie, snack bar and a small bag of chips. As the tour got underway, our guide Manuel handed a map to everyone that detailed the Yucatan Peninsula and notable Mayan temples and cities. Manuel then launched into a very informative talk about Mayan history, culture, traditions, etc. I found this to be interesting and it gave us a good background as we arrived at Chacchoben.
We made good time on the road and were given about ten minutes as we got off the bus to use the bathroom and look around the shop. There is a gift shop with traditional trinkets, apparel, etc. Inside the gift area is the bathroom and next to it is a small snack stand. We visited the snack stand on the way out and didn’t think the prices were too horrendous considering we were in the middle of nowhere. $2 for a 20 oz bottle of soda and a lady was making and selling fresh empanadas for $1 each. The snack stand had other items like chips and cookies.
The drizzle was getting heavier by the minute and some of the store employees made a killing off of most people on our bus (us included) selling ponchos. Ponchos were $5 each and you could tell they sell a LOT of them to tourists throughout the year. We were happy at first that these ponchos weren’t as steeply priced as the ones we bought years ago in Disney World, but they aren’t much thicker than tissue paper. I can’t recommend this enough – go to the dollar store before your trip and buy ponchos to bring with you!
Manuel led us onto the ruins site and we had the luck of being the very first tour group of the day to visit. We had several minutes to spread out and snap pictures. At that first pyramid you are allowed to walk up the first few steps – there is a rope marking the spot that you must stay in front of. Keep in mind – these are ancient ruins. You will not find handrails, ramps or any other 21st century safety or accessibility modifications. It is what it is – a whole lot of historical accomplishment. Climb at your own risk and remember the rock will be even more slick when it is wet.
Our tour continued to the rest of the ruins. We saw a hill that apparently contains the ruins of a house – but has not yet been excavated. There were several other areas to see, including another pyramid. To see that last pyramid you need to climb some SUPER steep steps. It was full on pouring rain by this point in our tour and the rocky steps were SLIPPERY. The pyramid at the top was worth the climb, but I lost my footing once on the way up and nearly had a heart attack.
We passed a roped off set of Mayan hieroglyphs on the way back to our bus and Manuel took a couple minutes to explain what they meant. We had about 20 minutes at the end to wander about and take pictures. The steady rain continued and most of us started the walk back to the bus.
With our few remaining minutes we looked around the shop, used the bathroom and stopped at the snack stand for a couple of empanadas. As we boarded the bus, our driver stood handing out drinks – our choice of a bottle of water or a cup of soda. Most of us had saved our snack from earlier, so we ate them on the way back.
Rainy, uneventful hour-long drive back to the port. Towards the end, Manuel thanked us and told us that if we felt he had done a good job, we could tip him (the driver as well) but that a tip was not mandatory. We thought both of them did a great job. They were informative, helpful and got us there and back in one piece. We tipped both of them.
To sum it up, we had a great tour. The weather was certainly not ideal, but then again I have read reviews of this excursion complaining about bugs – I didn’t see a single one as I’m sure the rain kept them away. We were fairly muddy by the end, but it was unavoidable. We did not have much time at the ruins – 1.5 hours max. Had the weather not been horrific, I probably would have wished for more time. As it was, I felt we had an adequate amount of time. Above all, wear comfortable shoes (preferably closed toe) as there is a decent amount of walking over very uneven ground. Most of your tour is shaded by trees but sunscreen is still a good idea. If you take the morning tour as we did, you will return to the dock right around lunchtime. This tour gave us a great option to explore some Mayan ruins while leaving ample time to shop around town and take in the local sites.
This review was NOT compensated. It was funded with by our own bank account and reflects an honest account of our individual experience. All opinions are 100% our own.